John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But . . .

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Sol
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John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But . . .

Post by Sol »

I have discovered on DVD in the past few days a TV movie that Mr. Astin did in the early seventies and recall seeing as a kid. Back then, I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen - and now seeing it for the first time since then, I'm glad to say that I agree with my childhood self. The movie is called EVIL ROY SLADE. Some of you may remember it, too. I highly recommend seeking this western spoof out. The script was by Garry Marshall and his writing partner, Jerry Belson, and was directed by Jerry Paris. The cast not only featured Mr. Astin's magnificent performance as the title character, but included Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Edie Adams, Dom Deluise, Henry Gibson, and Milton Berle. Should you recognize those names you can only wonder how a rip=roarin' comedy involving these people could possibly be anything but belly-bursting - then just know it is just that hysterical. In fact, if you're afraid of hurting yourself from laughing too much - then stay away!

Truthfully, I think EVIL ROY SLADE is as funny as BLAZING SADDLES, but without the crudity. Sit your kids down with you and have a great time!

Of course, I know this entry has nothing to do with BATMAN, but I thought it might appeal to many of you folks.

Thanks for readin', pilgrim.
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SprangFan
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by SprangFan »

Thanks for the tip; I've never heard of this film but with a pedigree like that it's bound to have something going for it.

However I disagree about Astin as Riddler...sort of. I think he did a good job, certainly better than a number of celebs did in parts written just for them. And his 2-parter is overall one of the better-written entries from the second season (and better plot-wise than a couple of the ones Gorshin was stuck with). But anyone was going to suffer in comparison to Frank. Either you copy him and end up looking like a pale substitute or you go your own way and have everyone say, "that's not the Riddler."

I guess what I mean is if we hadn't been so spoiled by Gorshin already we might've remembered Astin''s turn more favorably. Then again if Gorshin hadn't been around to contribute to the pilot, the whole thing might never have got off he ground anyway...
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HerryGrail
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by HerryGrail »

"Evil Roy Slade" was one of the funniest things I ever saw. Would love to see it again. Love Dick Shawn too. Awesome.

I think John Astin was (is) one of the naturally funniest guys ever. He had a hilarious part in the Doris Day movie "That Touch of Mink."
catwoman-henchman
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by catwoman-henchman »

Oh yes indeed, "Evil Roy Slade." I still have a handwritten letter from John about it. In part: "I thought you'd like to know about my latest project. It's a new television pilot called "Sheriff Who??" which will be shown for the very first time next Tuesday, Sept 5, on NBC-TV at 8pm. This is a new and, I think, unusual western comedy in which I play a scoundrel named EVIL ROY SLADE. I hope you'll watch it, and if you enjoy it and would like to see more episodes..." etc. etc. he gave the address for NBC.

The idea, a bit macabre, was that a new sheriff would be featured (and disposed of) every week. I think it worked better as a feature film, but clearly with Astin's charisma, there were all kinds of possibilities. Patty Duke talked about how magnetic he was. It's ironic because earlier in his career he was modest almost to a fault. You probably know that he tried out for the part of Lurch on "Addams Family," not Gomez. Fortunately they saw his potential opposite Carolyn Jones. I think he was "Lurch-y" in his own mind, because he'd come off the rather sad-sack role of Harry Dickens on "I'm Dickens He's Fenster," taking some slapstick falls and generally playing straight to Marty Ingels.

Astin's a very distinguished, thoughtful actor. Wish I'd gotten a chance to see his one-man show as Edgar A. Poe. Some very lucky students have taken courses with Prof. Astin. Good point about The Riddler. Frank was no slouch as an actor himself, and created a definitive version of the giggling madman. John had to be himself and find his own way with that part. Meanwhile, in his last great achievement, Frank was on Broadway as George Burns...doing an impression he had never done in his long, brilliant career as a mimic. I think he was doing that show back when Julie and Adam were in town for a TV Land party (I remember Dawn Wells was part of "the gang" as well).

Well, practically all the "Batman" bunch were accomplished actors and actresses, which is one reason the show is such a classic.
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Riddler Fan
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Riddler Fan »

I think John Astin is a very underrated actor. He's done everything from Poe to Addams and gotten good notices for all his work over the years. I liked him as Commander Matt Sherman in the TV version of Operation Petticoat and his many other TV and movie appearances.

I have and still do maintain that Astin played a much different version of Riddler (that of a determined fiend) and he would have looked foolish trying to imitate Gorshin's twisted and maniacal portrayal. I hate it when I see comment on Youtube like "Astin sucked as Riddler". Some people just don't realize these are two different actors with different builds, heights and interpretations of how Riddler should be played. It is literally like comparing apples to oranges.
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60s TV Fan
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by 60s TV Fan »

Don't forget his funny stints on Night Court, either...

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Sol
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Sol »

The ONLY thing I've ever seen Mr. Astin do that I didn't think was wonderful was his performance as the Riddler. The script appears to have been written with Gorshin in mind, with no changes made to suit a new variation. His overblown antics strike me as awkward. He appears to be trying too hard, but with little creative inspiration. I've watched his two-parter numerous times and always feel frustrated by it. Story-wise, it's fine. Certainly, I like how elements are lifted from the Riddler's original comics entry. Yet, for me, Astin does not come off well.

But coming back to EVIL ROY SLADE, this is a perfect demonstration of his true brilliance. I swear, I'm still hurting.
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Aussie Batfan
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Aussie Batfan »

Good discsussion ...
Just had a thought. I wonder why the producers couldn't have filmed Astin's episodes with the Riddler character retitled as a new villain? That would have avoided John having to compete with the legacy of Frank...
Isn't that how the Puzzler character came about? I seem to recall the Puzzler episode was originally written as a Riddler episode, but with Frank not being available it was turned into a new character.
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chrisbcritter
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by chrisbcritter »

The ONLY thing I've ever seen Mr. Astin do that I didn't think was wonderful was his performance as the Riddler.
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Mr. Deathtrap
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Mr. Deathtrap »

Hey Aussie Batfan,

You ask a good question about John Astin’s Riddler story.

“Batman’s Anniversary / A Riddling Controversy” hearkens back to the BATMAN series pilot and must therefore feature the Riddler, the first Batvillain to have ever been portrayed on television in live action.

The anniversary story is strong, based on a comic book plot, and features one of the best molls in the series, Anna Gram. The underwater fight is a wonderful, innovative idea and a highlight of the series, in my opinion.

You are quite right about the Puzzler story. It was originally intended for the Riddler and adapted because Frank Gorshin was unavailable. Astin was, unfortunately, put in a very tough position and deserves credit for making a good story possible to do. I understand fans’ disappointment and join the wish Gorshin would have been used. Still, I find many disparage the story unfairly—though not in this discussion.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Mr. Deathtrap

PS: EVIL ROY SLADE is hilarious.
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Sol
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Sol »

Anybody remember Mr. Astin in his recurring character of the scatter-brained professor on "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."? Loved the show. Thought he was great. Regrettably, we're not likely to see that kind of fun show again.
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Riddler Fan »

Sol wrote:The ONLY thing I've ever seen Mr. Astin do that I didn't think was wonderful was his performance as the Riddler. The script appears to have been written with Gorshin in mind, with no changes made to suit a new variation. His overblown antics strike me as awkward. He appears to be trying too hard, but with little creative inspiration. I've watched his two-parter numerous times and always feel frustrated by it. Story-wise, it's fine. Certainly, I like how elements are lifted from the Riddler's original comics entry. Yet, for me, Astin does not come off well.

But coming back to EVIL ROY SLADE, this is a perfect demonstration of his true brilliance. I swear, I'm still hurting.
I just can't agree that Astin's two parter was written with Gorshin in mind. I didn't see Astin wringing his hands hunch over and cackling madly. Likewise I cannot picture Gorshin at the window of the banquet revealing his costume under a raincoat, nor can I imagine Gorshin doing an underwater bank robbery. Keep in mind two things were developed just for Astin's Riddler two parter, the question mark cane and the question marked wetsuit. Although I feel Astin was good in his version of Riddler, I think the story was disappointing. I thought the quicksand cake was one of the most villainous deathtraps ever (tinged with irony), but what was Riddler's ultimate goal? To legalize crime. Talk about a buzz kill!! And why was Astin's Riddler always wearing a disguise over his costume?
Sol
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Sol »

There is not a line that comes from Astin's mouth that I cannot imagine coming from Gorshin. I think, Riddler Fan, that you are confusing writing with performance. Each actor tackling the same role will craft it their own unique approach, aka the wringing hands, cackling, and so forth. Astin was not trying to imitate Gorshin's performance - nor should he have done. However, I believe, he didn't come up with an inspired take of his own.

You can't imagine the underwater robbery or the bit at the banquet room window with Gorshin? Interesting how folks perceive things differently. I have no problem picturing either scene with Gorshin. He would have had his own approach to it.

The wet-suit is particular to the plot of this individual story. The cane is an affectation that is added as part of Astin's performance - not a script matter, at all - just an attempt to be visually unique.

Here's what I think happened: Dozier and his company were frustrated that Gorshin was still not making himself available, as they had already once completely re-written one story line due to his absence. So, they finally decided to try replacing him. While I appreciate that you liked Mr. Astin in the role, I think Dozier and company learned that such a switch was more difficult than they had bargained for.

Of course, I mean no disrespect to John Astin, of whom I am a big fan. Nobody, how talented, hits it out of the park every time.
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Gernot
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Gernot »

I've ALWAYS enjoyed John Astin's roles as Gomez Adams, The Riddler, Evil Roy Slade, and wasn't he on the cartoon Taz? It was on in the early '90's, and he played a hunter who tried to capture The Tazmanian Devil from the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. ;)
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Re: John Astin May Have Noot Been Good As The Riddler, But .

Post by Riddler Fan »

Sol wrote:There is not a line that comes from Astin's mouth that I cannot imagine coming from Gorshin. I think, Riddler Fan, that you are confusing writing with performance. Each actor tackling the same role will craft it their own unique approach, aka the wringing hands, cackling, and so forth. Astin was not trying to imitate Gorshin's performance - nor should he have done. However, I believe, he didn't come up with an inspired take of his own.

You can't imagine the underwater robbery or the bit at the banquet room window with Gorshin? Interesting how folks perceive things differently. I have no problem picturing either scene with Gorshin. He would have had his own approach to it.

The wet-suit is particular to the plot of this individual story. The cane is an affectation that is added as part of Astin's performance - not a script matter, at all - just an attempt to be visually unique.

Here's what I think happened: Dozier and his company were frustrated that Gorshin was still not making himself available, as they had already once completely re-written one story line due to his absence. So, they finally decided to try replacing him. While I appreciate that you liked Mr. Astin in the role, I think Dozier and company learned that such a switch was more difficult than they had bargained for.

Of course, I mean no disrespect to John Astin, of whom I am a big fan. Nobody, how talented, hits it out of the park every time.

I guess evil is in the eye of the beholder. I have watched all Riddler episodes hundreds of times ever since the first one air in January 1966 and I think like think I understand the character and the two actors who played him quite well. I know I am in the minority of Bat-Fans who think Astin did a good job playing a character made famous by another actor. What I don't understand is why Astin's Riddler is more disliked than say Kitt's Catwoman or Wallach's or Sanders' Mr. Freeze. Of the three bat-villains who were played by more than one actor, Astin's Riddler seems to get most of the negative comments. We seem to agree that Astin was wise not to try to imitate Gorshin's more manic characteristics and that he put his own spin on how to portray Riddler. What we do not seem to agree on is could Gorshin have played the part without changing the story? Most viewers seem to agree that putting Gomez Addams in green tights and passing him off as Riddler simply did not come across very well.

I think we all know what happened. For unclear reasons Gorshin did not want to play Riddler during the second season. The producers took one of the Riddler stories and created a new villain called Puzzler which was poorly received. The producers having another Riddler story to do felt pressure to come up with a quick fix. John Astin's "Addams Family" had just ben cancelled a few months back was available so they took the risk. Astin was of course happy to get the work. But he elected not to shave his trademark mustache for the role that would only last 10 days. He gave it his best and unfortunately for him it was not well received. Was there a vague promise for Astin to continue to play Riddler in the 3rd season? I've never heard that question answered completely. My guess is due to the poor reviews Astin got the producers decided to wait out Gorshin, and eventually he did come back for one last time as Riddler, but as we know it was for the truly awful "Ring Around The Riddler" half hour episode from the less than memorable 3rd season.

I guess my one big question is would people have accepted Astin as Riddler if he had played it from the beginning?
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